Summer Madness

by Catherine Johnson

It’s been one and a half years since the Milam Wildscspe  began. My, how it’s grown!

Last year at this time, the Wildscspe was beautiful and neat, and this year it is a beautiful jungle.  Three natives have made it so: Coreopsis, red salvia, and purslane.

Master Naturalists and their families/friends have been pulling these over-enthusiastic residents out. 

Richard Johnson is one of my favorite helpers.

Many creatures thrive in the garden, and there are many free plants still available. 

Customers at Bird and Bee Farm continue to take home brochures, including the recent Predators and Prey of Milam County brochure. 

We are propagating native plants right now, and we’re excited that a huge water fountain and coal car has been donated. 

Thanks go to our volunteers: Donna Lewis, Janice and Richard Johnson, Pamela Neeley, Liz Lewis, Linda Jo Conn, Kim Summers, Gene and Cindy Rek, Rosie, Gary, and Mitch.  

We love our chapter members!

Email me if you would like to volunteer for hours.

Predator and Prey Brochure

Predator and Prey Brochure: A Collaboration Between Texas Master Naturalists in the El Camino Real Chapter and All Things Wild Rehabilitation, Inc.

(Primary Contributors: Donna Lewis, Cindy Bolch, Joyce Conner, Helen Laughlin, and Carla Conner)

The Texas Master Naturalist mission is to develop a corps of well-educated “Master Volunteers” to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated toward the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. All members receive training and learn strategies to restore and conserve our local and state indigenous species and habitats.

One of the missions of All Things Wild Rehabilitation, Inc. is to promote respect and compassion for all wildlife through public education and awareness.

Because their missions align, four Texas Master Naturalist members in the El Camino Real Chapter (Milam County) attended a 3-hour training session at All Things Wild (ATW) in 2019. Thereafter, a relationship formed between the two organizations that included the chapter providing supplies and providing release locations for rehabilitated animals.

Learn more about me in the new brochure! Photo by @jenni.heller via Twenty20.

In 2020 the El Camino Real Chapter and All Things Wild partnered to create a brochure titled “Predator and Prey,” which is geared towards educating the public about some interesting things regarding wildlife, specifically in Milam County. Many of our wildlife creatures are sometimes mistakenly considered pests when actually these animals are quite beneficial to humans and the environment.

You can download the whole brochure at the end of this article.

This brochure illustrates the interdependence of some of Milam County’s most common mammals through individual descriptions and through a food web. It was designed by graphic artist Carla Conner, an ATW volunteer.

During our research for the brochure we learned new things and gained an even greater appreciation about the included wildlife. For example, we learned that both opossums and skunks are immune to snake venom and that both will eat venomous snakes. We also learned that raccoons do not wash their food, as many people believe. Instead, they will wet their food in their paws to gather sensory information about what they are about to eat. We hope you learn new information from the brochure too.

An online copy of the brochure is included at the end of this article. Look for the hard copy in the fall at your community library and Chamber of Commerce. You will also be able to get copies at the All Things Wild Rehabilitation center. Brochures for members of the chapter will also be available at the Hermit Haus; just let Sue Ann know you want to come get some. You are also welcome to print out a personal copy from this blog.

We hope that knowing more about these amazing wildlife neighbors will lead to more respect and protection of them. Learn and explore the wonderous world of wild animals so that you too can hear “The Call of the Wild.”

Download your own copy here!

July in the Garden

by Catherine Johnson

Last weekend, Bird and Bee Farm reopened again after selling out twice. A diversity of customers from Houston, Dallas and surrounding counties came, all practicing safety rules. 

The ducks and some guineas were a popular attraction.

Some plants were for sale, while the Master Naturalist table gave away nature books donated by Donna Lewis as well as nature brochures.

Plants and books for sale.

The highlight for me was giving the first tours of the Milam Wildscape.

One gentleman said the giant hibiscus was the prettiest flower he had ever seen. A Houston firefighter is coming back in the fall for native plants from the garden. 

hibiscus flower
The beautiful hibiscus flower

I will send out notices on future events and the next quail release. Enjoy some more photos from around the garden, until next time!

One More News Item

Remember when we released quail into the rehabilitated prairie area? They must be doing well, because we found eggs!

Bobwhite eggs. Such a great sign.

Great Horned Owl Release at Cedar Hill Ranch

by Joyce and Mike Conner

In the afternoon of June 2, 2020, three young Great Horned Owls were gathered and placed in a large dog carrier.

1:  Sara Prepares the Owls for Their Journey

Their destination was Cedar Hill Ranch, Gause, Texas, for release into the wild after being saved and rehabilitated by All Things Wild Rehabilitation.

Later that evening they and their human volunteers arrived at Cedar Hill Ranch.

2. Owls in Carrier
3: Conners and Sara Ready for a Release

After a short drive to a meadow with ponds surrounded by mixed forest, the birds were released one by one. Conner grandchildren were visiting the ranch that day and were able to participate in the release.

5: Sara Releases Another Owl
4: Sara Releases an Owl
6: One of the Released Owls

One owl posed for photos high up in a nearby tree before heading farther out into his new home environment.

Little Foot, 6/2/2020

Another owl, four weeks younger than the other two, stopped in a nearby cedar tree, and posed for a long time. We later learned that his human caretaker had named him “Little Foot”.

After about an hour, the humans returned to the ranch house and left the owls to live out their days wild in the area.

Update

Six days later Little Foot appeared at the Cedar Hill ranch house begging for food by clicking his beak and screeching.

Watch Little Foot asking for food.
8: Little Foot Returns, 6/8/2020

We were advised by the All Things Wild staff to make noise with pots and pans so that he would not be comfortable near the house and would return to the woods. Although he flew away that evening, he reappeared the next morning. This time he flew directly up to us and pecked at our legs. This behavior indicated to everyone that he was not ready for release in the wild, as he was still relying on humans to provide food to him.

We were then told to lure Little Foot into an enclosure to hold him until Sara was able to get him that evening. Joyce tied a piece of raw chicken to a string and led him slowly several hundred feet into one of our chicken coop enclosures.

9: Luring Little Foot

At one point Little Foot grabbed the chicken and tried to get it away from Joyce. Although hungry, he was surprisingly strong.

10: Little Foot Grabs the Chicken Piece
11: Little Foot Waits in a Chicken Coop Enclosure

Sara and friends arrived that evening. They took Little Foot back to the All Things Wild Rehabilitation Center where he will live in their “flight” cage. They will feed him only live food for about a month to get him ready for a second release attempt.

12: Sara and Friends Recapture Little Foot, 6/9/2020

Can You Help?

All Things Wild Rehabilitation (ATW) is looking for places to release animals to the wild. Usually, they like a site to have a source of water and for landowners to be willing to put out food for the young animals for about 2 weeks until the animals learn how to forage on their own. However, we have been a release site five times and have never been asked to put out food.

If you find a wild animal that you think needs help, visit the ATW website at and review “Found An Animal?” information. If after reviewing that information, you decide you need to contact the center about the animal, call 512-897-0806.

If you are interested in becoming a release site, the following information is from their website.

How to Become a Release Site

The goal of wildlife rehabilitation is to return the bird or the animal to the wild. We release the rehabilitated animals on private property with permission from the owner. All Things Wild is always looking for good release sites. Here are our dream criteria for releasing most small mammals and raptors:

  • Acreage, preferably 10 acres or more, with woods,
  • No high fences,
  • Water year-round,
  • Away from busy highways, communities, houses, and lots of people,
  • Accessible by vehicle or hiking,
  • Willingness to do a soft release* if necessary, and
  • An appreciation of wild animals.

If you would like to offer your land as a release site for ATW, please email allthingswildrehab@gmail.com.Thank you!

*A soft release is when food is left out for released animals until they become accustomed to foraging in the wild.

More about Great Horned Owls

If you’d like to learn more about these amazing birds, please download this PDF fact sheet that Joyce made to help educate her grandchildren, based on information she found on the web.

Quail Release

by Ann Collins and Catherine Johnson

Catherine Johnson and I had a spectacularly rare treat this week. We were visiting the Bird and Bee Farm, where Catherine has created a marvelous wildflower garden. If you haven’t seen it, you really must go. It is full of color, texture, and scents. Guinea fowl and chickens roam free, gobbling up grasshoppers and other noxious critters. Catherine even shares the overflow (flowers, not grasshoppers!).

Bobwhite quail. Image by @JBL via Twenty20

Gene and Cindy Rek have turned their hundred-acre property into a prairie paradise. You may already know they sell laying hens of every description. They also sell Rio Grande turkeys, guinea fowl, and Peking ducks.* This week they added another member of the feather family: Bobwhite Quail.

After an early morning trip to Bastrop, they came back with two flax boxes with breathing holed punched in them. Inside were thirty pairs of breedign quail. Gene carried the boxes out in some tall grass and gently set them down. He cut the strings on box #1 and carefully lifted the lid, revealing an almost-solid carpet of mottled brown feathers.

Just as we were taking in the scene, it suddenly erupted and flew away. Not at all what I was expecting!

Here’s what we saw:

The next box we were somewhat prepared for, but it was just as exciting when it was opened and thirty quail breathed a sigh of ecstasy and got their first taste of prairie freedom.

While we stood, adjusting to this miracle of Nature, the birds immediately started calling to one another with their signature whistle of, “Bob White!”

Later we saw several of them on the pond margins, trying to make sense of this incredible gift they had been given. Hopefully, most will survive to repopulate an area that was once their native habitat before every scrap of nature was cleared away for cattle, monocultures, and civilization, before pesticides, GMOs, and chemicals.

This is supposedly quail. Photo by @Tereza via Twenty20

These birds were all full grown, but future plans include day-old chicks to be raised in the barn and released later this summer.

There will be a coming out party when they are old enough, and all of you are invited to the celebration. Cindy will let us know when it is. It will be fun: a step back in time and a step forward toward restoration of a native prairie, right here in Milam County.

Mark your calendars!


*The farm is open only by appointment, and they are booked many weeks ahead. Please call them at (512) 808-8533 to reserve an opening! You can drop by and look at the gardens at any time.